Reupholstering dining chairs can be quite easy depending on the type of chair. If you are only planning on reupholstering the fabric, you could easily accomplish this as a weekend project. With few basic hand tools, you can accomplish this yourself. In this example it is a simple fabric wrap around a foam topped plywood seat. The important thing to figure out before you start, is that you have structurally sound chairs. If they are a bit on the wobbly side, you'll want to glue/screw them secure before you begin, as some of the aging antique chairs may not be salvageable. I've also chosen to touch up the finish and partially re-stain the chairs, but you may not need to, and it can be tricky to spot-fix them and still have the repairs blend in.
Step 1: Remove Seat Top
The first step is to remove the old seat top from the chair. This is usually fastened with 4 screws on the underside of the seat. Make sure to keep the screws in a safe place. If you are also re-staining the chairs, it is going to take some time to apply the multiple coats of stain and sealer, depending on the product(s) you are using.
Step 2: Remove Old Fabric
Now you are going remove the old fabric. I considered simply wrapping new fabric right over top of the existing fabric, which is certainly an option, though this had already been done several times and I thought that the existing cushioning needed to be replaced as well, so I took it right down to the plywood. As you can see in the photo the cushion was actually made from hay, so I'm glad I did strip it down as that isn't the most comfortable option (Though an industrious one, this gives an example of the age of the chairs..).
Using a flat head screwdriver, remove all of the staples to free the existing fabric. Make sure that there are no more staples or jagged edges remaining that could potentially pierce through the new fabric once applied.
Step 3: Apply the New Fabric
Cut, or have cut, the foam to the right size, using the plywood as a template for the shape/size. Cut your fabric the size of the cushion with enough to have 3-4 inches overhang around all sides. There has to be enough overhang for you to be able to pull on all sides as you staple it down. Lay the fabric over the seat and flip it face down to start fastening it down.
To staple the fabric down, get staples that are the appropriate length. You want them to be long enough to sufficiently hold the fabric in place, but not so long that it goes through the wood and high enough to poke you in the butt! It's also easiest to work at a table up against the wall because when you start the process you need to keep tension on both sides of the seat to apply the needed pressure. To avoid getting wrinkles in the fabric, you need to continuously alter the side that you are stapling. Put a few staples in one side, then put a few in the opposing side, then do the same to the adjecent side. Start stapling from the middle of any side and slowly work towards the corners. Don't forget to flip the seat over every so often to make sure that you aren't pulling the fabric too far in any direction, or you will end up with wrinkles and have to redo it. Depending on the type of wood that the seat is made of that the staples don't go all the way in. Have a hammer handy to make sure to pound the ones in that don't go all the way in. The corners can get a bit tricky to keep sufficient and even tension from both sides, but if you staple as far to the corner as you can without stapling the adjecent side that hasn't been stapled yet, you can then do the corner by pulling the fabric alongside one of the sides, stapling it, then pulling the rest alongside the other side and placing another staple on top. A bit tricky to explain, but you can see in the attached photo that the are a couple layers of folds in the corner to do what was just described. After you've stapled everything, you can trim the excess fabric off so you don't see anything hanging below the chair.
Step 4: Scotch Guard
An optional step, though recommended for most fabrics, especially light colored ones. A single aerosol can costs about $10 and did all 8 of my dining chairs. It should help keep them a little cleaner over the years.
Step 5: Staining
If you opt to do some re-staining, there are a couple different ways to do this. What I did was a spot-fix option as oppose to a complete sand down and re-stain, which didn't seem worth it to me. The real trick is to get it to match the color and finish of the existing stain without being glaringly obvious. This can take a bit woodworking know how, but someone at your local hardware store should be able to help you with this. Testing it in a small unnoticeable place is imperative! I found that what worked best for me was a stain and sealer in one. It calls for a single coat (but you can do a very light 2nd coat if you sand the finish off after it's dried). Admittedly it isn't going to match absolutely perfectly, so if you are a perfectionist, consider this fact before doing it. But that's the beauty of old wood, it has character and history if you look close.
In short, sand lightly, which is the first step before staining. The more I tried to really work an area, the more obvious it became, even after staining. But you have to make sure that you sand off the previous sealer coat or no matter what type of stain you are using, it won't soak in.